State of Missouri fails to follow its own water quality guidelines

ST. LOUIS, MO — A Fox Files investigation has found the State of Missouri is not following its own clean water guidelines.

Fox Files investigator Chris Hayes made the discovery after this report on brown water in Leadwood, MO.   Leadwood didn’t follow Missouri guidelines for water tank cleaning. Then we found Missouri was accused of similar shortcomings at state parks. We requested cleaning records for the water tower at Wildwood’s Babler State Park.

With nearly 2,500 acres and 20 miles of hiking trails, you'll find water fountains at the visitor center, the shelters and the youth camps. They're spread throughout the park and supplied by a water tower on the property. It is maintained by the State of Missouri Department of Natural Resources. The last cleaning report the state could provide was 20 years old.

Water tower expert Clyde Zelch told us, “It needs to be cleaned absolutely.”

Zelch is so respected, he's quoted by Missouri regulators in DNR`s 1995 report addressing people who died because of an infected water tank. Water tests don't always show the filth. Sometimes only divers can see sediment that's a breeding ground for bacteria.

“I was in one down in the Southern part of this state with knee boots on. You had to move careful or the mud would run in the top of the knee boots. It was like 18 inches deep," said Zelch.

DNR recommends cities clean their water towers every two to five years. We found regulators violating their own recommendation at Babler State Park. After a series of requests, the last cleaning record we could find is from 1999. Regulators hired an inspector to look inside last year. He noted, "a layer of sediment which should be removed."

Zelch looked at the report.  FOX 2's Chris Hayes asked, “Did they clean it?” He responded, “No, I ain't going to name him. They had him look at it. I don`t know what the point was because he didn`t clean it.”

This is after a watchdog group tried getting Missouri to take action four years ago. The group is called P.E.E.R. – Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. I asked spokesman Jeff Ruch, “What was their response?” He answered, “In essence it was kind of mind your own business haha.” He added, “We`re a little frustrated that we can't get Missouri to comply with their own rules.”

P.E.E.R. began investigating water towers in all of Missouri's state parks after being contacted by a state employee whistleblower who claimed the state was neglecting water towers.

“We've found that Missouri DNR has responded to this by basically throwing in chlorination as if that were a solution, but in many instances chlorination can not only mask the problem," said Ruch. Clyde Zelch added, “You can chlorinate water enough to make it pass the test, but if it`s really dirty water, you`re not going to make drinking water out of it just by adding chlorine.”

P.E.E.R. did not get the action it had hoped. Ruch says he`s not surprised we found Missouri has still failed to clean the water tower in Wildwood. He laughed as he said, “I guess my inclination would be to drive as quickly as I could through Missouri.”

The State eventually responded by saying it would clean the water tower. After FOX 2 started asking about it, regulators put the job out for a bid and a company has arranged to clean the Babler State Park water tower at the end of November, 2017.